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Diabetic Retinopathy screening program a huge success

image-tools (81)A CERA-designed program to encourage people with diabetes to have regular eye checks for diabetic retinopathy is a great success, according to results published in the Medical Journal of Australia today.

Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) – blindness caused by diabetes – remains a major cause of visual impairment in working-age Australians. This is despite the availability of testing for early detection and treatment of the degenerative disease.

The program was first piloted in 2011. It targets people with diabetes, up to 90 per cent of who regularly attend pathology centres for other diabetes-related tests. CERA researchers found that a third of diabetic patients were not undertaking recommended biannual DR screening.

Although the uptake of the offered new service was very high – almost 94 per cent of patients accepted the DR testing at the pathology centres – CERA researchers found room for further improvement, particularly the follow-up of results by some General Practitioners (GPs).

According to the project manager Melanie Larizza, “It is critical that GPs ensure patients are well informed of the screening results to help them make informed decisions about their diabetic eye care”.

Based on the success of the pilot, the program was rolled out to five Melbourne metropolitan centres in 2012, with further plans to expand the program to regional areas in Victoria this year.

The project is supervised by CERA’s Health Services and Ocular Epidemiology Research Unit Head, Associate Professor Ecosse Lamoureux. It received vital project grant funding from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.

Image (L-R): Dr Kathryn Davidson and Dr Alice Pébay. Image courtesy of National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia.  

The Centre for Eye Research Australia is delighted to announce that one of the world’s most exciting, up-and-coming stem cell researchers has returned to Australia to join our Neuroregeneration Unit.

Dr Kathryn Davidson is a stem cell scientist, with an interest in how stem cells communicate and how this influences the way they behave and specialise. American-born, she married an Australian and completed her PhD in Melbourne, spending five years in Professor Martin Pera’s stem cell research group at Monash University and the Australian Stem Cell Centre.

Following several years of postdoctoral research at the University of Washington, she is returning to Australia to work in the Neuroregeneration Unit at CERA, under the leadership of Dr Alice Pébay.

Dr Davidson’s research will focus on finding a way to model eye disease in a laboratory, so that we can better understand what causes eye disease and test out potential new therapies.

“We will take skin cells from the patient, turn them into stem cells and then into new retinal cells. Then we can compare these eye cells with damaged eye cells from the same patients and see what is happening,” she says.

Dr Davidson received a research grant from the newly-launched National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia that allowed her to return to Australia and take up her new position at CERA. The Foundation supports research efforts and provides much-needed public information about stem cell therapies.

Dr Alice Pébay, Head of CERA’s Neuroregeneration Unit, said it was a pleasure to welcome Dr Davidson to her team. “We are extremely fortunate to have Kathryn joining us,” said Dr Pébay. “She brings with her a wealth of knowledge from her time spent working in the US and has excellent experience in both stem cell research and cell signalling. She will be a fantastic addition to the team.”

Over the past two years, CERA has attracted a range of talented researchers from outside the field of eye research – including pharmacology, psychology, cell biology and stem cell research. Dr Davidson is the latest of these high-calibre researchers to call CERA home.

“I am new to the field of eye research,” said Dr Davidson, “but I wanted to work with a team focused on clinical or translational research. For me, that is important – to move the research in a direction where it may make a difference for a patient.”

For Dr Davidson, CERA was a perfect fit. “Australia is my adopted home and it’s great to be part of something that’s a real strength here in Australia.”